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Fascinating Facts on Uniforms and Fashion

Aug 17, 2007
If you found your way here, you probably already knew everything about uniforms except for these odd facts:

Why is the US Surgeon General always in a military uniform?
This is because the organization of which she is the chief, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), is a uniformed service. You might be thinking, so are mail carriers, but the postmaster general doesn't get to wear one. The difference is that the PHS began as the Marine Hospital Service, which was organized after a military fashion in 1870 to attend to merchant sailors. The members were, and still are, given military-style commissions and naval-style ranks, with the idea that they will be a mobile force ready to be thrown into the war on germs. You might suppose the fact that MHS doctors often served alongside regular military personnel in military camps during wars and sometimes had to give orders also argued for ranks and uniforms.

The Marine Hospital Service was reorganized as the Public Health Service in 1912 and transformed into what is now the Department of Health and Human Services, but the military traditions remain.

Did Michaelangelo design a military uniform?
The red, yellow, and dark blue Renaissance uniform worn by the Papal Swiss Guard at the Vatican was designed by Michaelangelo. Swiss Guards are Swiss mercenary soldiers who have served as bodyguards, ceremonial guards and palace guards at foreign European courts from the late 15th century until the present time. They have generally had a high reputation for discipline and impeccable loyalty to their employers.

Some of these units have also served as fighting troops in the field throughout history. There were also regular Swiss mercenary regiments serving as line troops in various armies, most notably those of France, Spain and Naples. The Papal Swiss Guard is the only such detachment to still exist today.

What is the origin of the chef's hat?
The chef's hat, properly known as a toque comes to us from the royal courts and kings of the ancient Assyrians. Since one of the more common ways to assassinate a king back then was to poison his food, chefs were chosen carefully and treated very well. In addition, safe food handling being something of a mystery at that time, food poisoning from plain old spoiled food was also common, and the chef trade was considered a learned study for the very wise. Before long, the chef was often even holding rank in the king's court.

It became apparent that that the chef's high position entitled him to wear a 'crown' of sorts, in the same shape as that worn by the king, but made out of cloth and without all of the pricey jewels. The crown-shaped ribs of the royal head-dress became the pleats of the toque, which were originally sewn, and later stiffened with starch. The competing story of how King Henry VIII found a hair in his soup, had the cook beheaded, and ordered the next chef to start wearing a hat is completely false.

Did Hugh Hefner invent the Playboy Bunny uniform?
That's a trick question, and the answer is 'no'! When plans for a Playboy Club began in 1959, they were seeking to maximize on the image Playboy was most famous for, which were its Playmates. Initial talk centered on dressing the Playboy club's hostesses in revealing negligees and calling them 'Playmates'. But on a night-out, Ilse Taurins, who was Playboy executive Victor Lownes' girlfriend, suggested to Hugh Hefner the idea of dressing the hostesses in the image of the tuxedo-clad Playboy Bunny character.

Hefner didn't like the idea, as he had always viewed the rabbit as a male character. Once he saw a prototype of the outfit, which was made by Taurins' mother, he changed his mind. He particularly liked the tail, and made a very strict rule at the club that members were not allowed to touch the Bunnies' tail, by penalty of expulsion.

Why are coaches in baseball assigned a number like the players?
In baseball as it originally formed, they had not a manager but the "captain", who was uniformly a member of the team and was physically out on the field during the game. It stayed like this until after the turn of the century, when the captain became a manager and was relegated to the dugout. The tradition of a leader who is "one of the boys", however, has continued to this day.

Did America ever have an Emperor?
Only in jest, but it seems like everyone was happy to go along with the joke.Meet Joshua Norton, who in San Fransisco in 1859, simply hauled off and declared himself Emperor of the United States and that was that. Next thing, he was prancing the streets dressed in full majestic uniform made of an old donated army coat and boots, a hat with feathers, a donated sword and assorted imperial epaulets. It seems everybody put their tongue in their cheek and bowed to him, and the joke just kept on going. Children followed him as he marched the streets, picking up litter and doing kind deeds, in the hope of being crowned king or queen for a day.

Emperor Norton was allowed to dine for free in any restaurant. When he died in 1880, approximately sixty thousand people attended the ceremony which featured full military honors. His tombstone reads "Norton I, Emperor of the United States, Protector of Mexico, Joshua A. Norton, 1819-1880."

Why do men's suits have buttons on the sleeves?
That would be the doing of one Frederick the Great, ruler of Prussia from 1740 to 1786. Frederick had a thing for spiffy attire in his troops, but while standing at attention in the hot sun his soldiers' brows did sweat, and the men were prone to wipe their faces on their sleeve.

Frederick hated to see icky sleeves, and, rather like you'd put Tobasco sauce on a child's thumb to stop them from sucking it, Frederick had scratchy buttons sewn on the soldiers' uniform sleeves. That, to this day, is the best information we have!
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